Pregnant at Work
What You Need to Know to Protect Your Rights
At long last, not one but two lines have appeared on that little stick! Fast on the heels of your joy at finally being pregnant come the fatigue and nausea that are so common in the first trimester. You spend most of the work day just trying not to puke in front of co-workers, and you can barely think past lunch, much less nine months ahead to your maternity leave. Yet the early stage of your pregnancy is exactly when you need to tackle the issue of your rights in the workplace.
When Should I Tell?
Most first-time moms are nervous about sharing their big news right away. So many things can happen during the first trimester that many women elect to wait until between weeks 12 and 14, when the greatest danger of early miscarriage has passed. In terms of protecting your job, however, that may not be the best strategy.
“Tell your supervisor and other bosses immediately after you learn that you are pregnant,” advises Steven Mitchell Sack, an attorney and the author of The Working Woman’s Legal Survival Guide: Know Your Workplace Rights Before It’s Too Late. “Once you become pregnant, you enter a protected class under the law, and the company may have to re-evaluate any decision to fire you if that was being considered before your notification.”
Make sure you have some documentation proving that you notified management about your pregnancy. It can be as simple as jotting a note to yourself as to whom you told when and what their reactions were, or as formal as a hard copy of an email or letter you sent to management or human resources to follow up on the initial conversation.
It’s also a good idea to inform your employer of your pregnancy as early as possible so you have adequate time to explore human resources’ policies regarding pregnancy and leave. Companies’ maternity leave policies vary widely. You’ll want to know whether or not you are allowed to apply all unused sick, personal, and vacation time to your leave; if so, you can begin planning accordingly to save up your days, and if not, you can start using up your time for medical appointments, or for the days when you just can’t get out of bed. And while you may want to use all your vacation time to extend the length of your paid leave, your company probably can’t force you to do so. “Employers may not require pregnant workers to exhaust vacation benefits unless all temporarily disabled workers are required to do the same,” says Sack.
What if I Can’t Perform My Normal Duties?
While pregnancy is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is a temporary condition, many states have passed statutes requiring companies to make reasonable accommodations upon request. Such accommodations might include working from home, shifting from strenuous duties to less physical ones, sitting during the workday when previously the job may not have been conducive to sitting, or working a more flexible schedule. According to Sack, “Employers unwilling to comply with such a request are required to justify their decisions by demonstrating that compliance would create an undue hardship for the business.”
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